Building Muscle on a Vegan Diet: Best Vegan Proteins

October 14, 2019

Building Muscle on a Vegan Diet: Best Vegan Proteins

To the average man and woman on the street, a stereotypical bodybuilder’s diet is rich in red meat and cheese—with barbecue being the dish of the day. To those in the know, the stereotypical diet is broccoli, brown rice, chicken/fish, and copious amounts of whey—a little plainer, but still reliant on animal proteins. 

There’s no avoiding the fact that meat and dairy are rich sources of protein. This is backed by decades of research, including this 2004 analysis, which determined that while variety is key, animal proteins from casein and whey produced the best results for protein synthesis.(1)

However, the idea that you need to eat meat or dairy to build muscle is a fallacy. There are countless vegan proteins out there that provide many of the same benefits while also allowing for a greater variation. They may not be as quickly absorbed and they may not provide the same sort of calorie-protein ratio that you get from lean chicken or processed whey, but don’t dismiss them just yet.

Pea Protein 

When you think of peas, you probably think of the sweet, green varieties that can be used to make delicious soups or served in a bowl with a knob of butter. These vegetables are certainly very good for you and they are also high in fiber, but that’s not where pea protein comes from.

Pea protein is derived from yellow peas, the same varieties used in the Greek dish Fava, as well as in Indian dahls. The protein is extracted from these peas to create a powder that provides around 15 grams of protein for every 70 to 80 calories. It’s one of the best sources of vegan protein as it also contains all 9 essential amino acids, as well as a little iron and fiber.

There are only two downsides to pea protein. Firstly, it can be gritty, and it doesn’t have the best taste. However, this is easily negated by opting for a pea protein blend, such as our Daily Protein, which combines this high-quality protein with organic flavorings to create something that is as delicious as any whey product.

Secondly, it doesn’t have the highest concentration of the amino acid methionine.(2) However, if you’re eating a balanced diet and not relying entirely on pea protein, this shouldn’t be an issue. You can top-up your methionine intake with the following vegan foods:

  • Brazil Nuts
  • Oats
  • Peanuts
  • Chickpeas
  • Almonds

If you want a complete healthy shake, add some natural almond/peanut butter or a sprinkling of oats to your Daily Protein.

Hemp Protein

Hemp is an amazing substance and could be one of the saviors of mankind. It’s a fantastic food and resource and is grown in abundance. Hemp seeds can add some crunch to smoothie bowls and salads, while concentrated hemp protein can give your protein shake some punch.

Hemp protein contains all 9 essential amino acids and it’s also one of the few vegan sources for Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Humans get most of their EFAs from oily fish and vegans don’t have a lot of options as far as alternatives are concerned. Hemp protein is therefore one of the best vegan proteins on the market.

Soy Protein

Soy is high in methionine, which is one of the amino acids that pea protein lacks. It has received a bad reputation over the years and has been linked to increased levels of estrogen, which is never a good thing if you’re goal is to build muscle. However, many of these studies have been debunked and research suggests that there is nothing to worry about with moderate consumption.(3)

It’s a different story if you are allergic, of course, but if not then a little soy every now and then will not harm you. Foods like tofu, tempeh, and edamame beans are also a great way to supplement your diet and get lots of high-quality proteins.

Brown Rice Protein

Brown rice has been used as a bodybuilding staple for generations due to its slow-release energy and the fact it provides more key nutrients than other starchy staples. Brown rice protein is extracted from this carb-heavy substance to create something that provides over 20 grams of protein per serving and is naturally high in iron.

Brown rice protein is a great substitute for red meat proteins and can provide some variety when consumed alongside the other proteins on this list.

Food Proteins

Protein powders are a great way to increase your protein consumption throughout the day. They are often consumed as part of a big breakfast, before/after a workout, and on an evening. However, if you rely entirely on these powders to get your fix of protein then you may be missing out on essential nutrients and fiber. 

Luckily, there are many other great sources of vegan protein. These include:

  • Soy-Based: Tofu, tempeh, and edamame beans all provide an amount of protein on terms with what you get from meat and dairy products.
  • Green Veg: In terms of their protein to calorie ratio, leafy green veg like spinach and kale are some of the most protein dense foods you can eat.
  • Lentils: These nutritional powerhouses are cheap, delicious, and packed with protein and fiber. They should form a staple of all strength athletes’ diets, vegan or otherwise.
  • Legumes and Nuts: Think of nuts as a replacement for oily fish, because in addition to protein and essential minerals, they also provide healthy fats.
  • Seitan: Gluten has gotten a bad rep lately, but if you’re not a celiac and you’re looking for a simple, high-protein snack, seitan, which is made from wheat gluten, is fantastic. There are many other gluten-based proteins as well and they are often formed into jerky-like snacks.
  • Mushroom Based: There are numerous meat-free alternatives on the market that use fungus and mushroom based proteins to create a product that tastes like meat, looks like meat and provides many of the same benefits.

How Much Protein do Vegans Need?

The assumption from many aspiring vegans is that you either need to greatly reduce your protein intake or consume a lot of protein powders. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Generally speaking, if you eat a diet rich in whole foods, you’ll consume an adequate amount of protein. Take a look at the following as an example:



  • Kale, Edamame, Brazed Tofu


  • Mushroom Risotto with Broccoli, Quinoa, Green Peas and Bread 


  • Lentil Dahl with Cauliflower and Whole Wheat Flatbread


  • 1 Banana
  • 20 Almonds
  • 1 Tablespoon of Peanut Butter
  • 2 Apples
  • Glass of Soy Milk

All of that comes to less than 2,500 calories, it doesn’t include any protein powders, shakes or “meat-free” alternatives, and yet it provides around 125 grams of protein. It will also meet most of your Daily Nutrient Values and provide you with more than enough protein to build muscle.

Conclusion: Proof That you Can Build Muscle as a Vegan

There are many vegan bodybuilders, especially in the world of Natural Bodybuilding, but vegan athletes can be found in many other disciplines. Former 2x weight world champion boxer, David Haye, became vegan in 2014 and current US hopeful Bryant Jennings, who has fought some of the best fighters in the world, is a long-time vegetarian who turned vegan in 2015.

These fighters switched to a vegan diet when they were at the top of one of the toughest and most demanding sports in the world, one that emphasizes power, speed, and agility. There are also vegan strongmen (Patrik Baboumian) and UFC fighters (Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz).

So, don’t let anyone tell you that vegans can’t consume enough protein to build muscle or and that they can’t compete at the highest level.

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